Four Questions to Simplify Relationship Arguments

simplify arguments in relationships

Most of the couples I work with experience cyclical fighting- the kind of arguments you have over and over and over often even saying the same things but never feeling heard or resolved.  

It's one of the most maddening parts of being in a relationship.  

I created these Fight Better in Relationships tools to help create a foundation for better communication, but these cyclical stuck arguments require another step.  

According to Dr Susan Johnson (one of the leading experts in relationships), most conflicts stay at the surface and never get to the real issues at hand.  When this happens we keep fighting on the surface without ever really getting at what we really need to talk about.

In her book, Hold Me Tight (which I highly recommend) she lays out four questions that usually lie under our conflicts.  Take a look at these when you fight with your partner to see if there's something deeper you're trying to get at.  

Four Questions to Break Out of Cyclical Arguments

1) Are you there for me?

If you notice your argument circling around someone not showing up, not being present, or not demonstrating care (even if that's not how they see it) there's a real possibility one of you is asking this question- indirectly.  

Instead of continuing the argument take time to look at ways you show up for one another and ask how you could show up even more clearly for one another.

2) Do my feelings matter to you?

There are two parts to this question.  First, do you acknowledge my feelings exist- even when you disagree or have a different set of emotions- without negating them?  Can you validate my emotions no matter how different they are from yours?

And part two, does being aware of my feelings have an impact (does it matter) to you?  Does it matter to you when your partner experiences pain or joy?  Can you acknowledge what they're experiencing, again, even if you aren't experiencing the same thing?  

3) Will you respond when I need you?

Reliability builds trust in relationships.  Notice if there are ways you can improve follow through in your relationship and start walking your talk with even more care to start building trust between you.

4) Are you curious about me?  

I added this to the list, Dr Johnson doesn't mention it, but many of the couples I work with are experiencing desire fatigue.  They've been together a long time and miss the fascination, passion, and desire of their first meeting.  

Usually this early desire can be boiled down to curiosity.  Back when we met we were getting to know each other and were endlessly curious about our new crush.  Over time we stop being curious and start running on assumptions instead of asking.  

Start asking questions to spark curiosity between you again.  Give answers with more than one sentence to keep conversation rolling.  This question just means it's time to get re-acquainted.  

If ou want help breaking free of these kinds of stuck repetitive arguments, give me a call for a consultation.  I'm happy to talk.


poly therapist in portland

Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a sex educator and relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationships, jealousy, LGBTQ issues and infidelity.  

She can help you:

  • rediscover passion in long-term relationships
  • repair trust after infidelity or dishonesty
  • move past jealousy, insecurity or codependent patterns
  • open your relationship or practice polyamory with care
  • resolve sexual dysfunction and disconnect
  • break unhealthy communication patterns in your relationship

Contact her for a free consultation to see if working with her is right for you.

Click here to download her free guides to strengthen your relationship (monogamous or not).